Uber whistle-blower says current business model 'absolutely' unsustainable

Mr Mark MacGann identified himself as the source who leaked the more than 124,000 company files. PHOTO: AFP

LISBON – Mr Mark MacGann, the whistle-blower behind the so-called Uber Files, on Wednesday said the ride-hailing company seemed to be taking steps towards improving its work culture, but that its business model was still “absolutely” unsustainable.

The Guardian and Le Monde newspapers had reported in July that Uber Technologies broke laws and secretly lobbied politicians as part of an aggressive drive to expand into new markets from 2013 to 2017.

Mr MacGann, who led Uber’s lobbying efforts to win over governments, identified himself as the source who leaked the more than 124,000 company files.

He said he decided to speak out because he believed that Uber knowingly flouted laws and misled people about the benefits to drivers of the company’s gig economy model.

In response to the newspaper reports, Uber said in July: “We have not and will not make excuses for past behaviour that is clearly not in line with our present values.”

Mr MacGann said Uber’s current chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi and his executive team “have done a lot of good things but they have so, so far to go”.

When asked for comment, an Uber spokesman on Wednesday referred Reuters to a 2020 New York Times opinion piece by Mr Khosrowshahi, in which he said “our current employment system is outdated and unfair”.

Mr Khosrowshahi had said gig workers would lose the flexibility they had today if they became employees, and that rides would be more expensive. The CEO wrote that workers wanted both flexibility and benefits, and added that new laws were required to help them.

“I am proposing that gig economy companies be required to establish benefits funds which give workers cash that they can use for the benefits they want, like health insurance or paid time off,” Mr Khosrowshahi wrote in the op-ed.

At a news conference during Europe’s largest tech conference, the Web Summit, in Lisbon, Mr MacGann said: “My message to Uber is: ‘You have done well, (but) you can do it so much better (because) the current model is absolutely not sustainable’.“

He also noted that Uber recently reiterated that the “core of its business model is independent contractors, since everybody wants to be self-employed, everybody wants flexibility”.

Mr MacGann said the facts, however, contradicted this view as there were Uber drivers suing the company in various countries to “have a basic minimum of social protection such as sick pay”.

“Uber is pumping tens of millions of dollars in Europe, the United States, other parts of the world fighting legislation,” he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.